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6 Oct, 2020 06:59

‘Orwellian shiver’: Shops in Thailand start using scanners that check if customers are wearing masks before allowing them to enter

New scanning systems that automatically refuse entry to people who have a fever or aren’t wearing masks are seemingly being rolled out by businesses in Thailand in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Travel writer Niall Harbison spotted the devices at stores in Thailand, saying they could scan his temperature and ascertain whether he was wearing a face mask in two seconds. “Doors don’t open if not,” he tweeted. “Three cases in 100+ days here. Removes awkward mask arguments for staff as well.”

Such technology could quickly become pervasive. Similar devices are being sold online for offices, which can use them to restrict entry by employees and visitors. Twitter users said that some schools, nursing homes and workplaces in other countries, including the UK, are using similar systems to control access.

Several observers pointed out the practical shortcomings of face-scanning devices, such as the unreliability of temperature checks, the need to allow for legitimate mask exemptions, and the ability of people to take off their masks or wear them improperly after being granted entry. Another cited the potential for “smashed screens and barrier barging,” while others said scanning systems made by Chinese video-surveillance firm Hikivision have been banned in the US, Indian and Japan, among other countries, because of data security risks.

But the bigger debate centered on the sort of society that’s being created with such technology.

“The very fact that this doesn’t seem to send an Orwellian shiver down your spine speaks volumes about the lack of cranial matter between your ears,” one commenter tweeted.Another said: “We don’t need to destroy our way of life to spend the rest of our miserable existences in a fearful, masked dystopia over a virus that’s easily survivable by almost everyone except those likely to die of flu.”

Others praised the device, such as one commenter who was anxious to see the “clever” technology put to use in the UK. A Twitter user said: “Respecting the rules works,” while another tweeted: “Every business in Ireland dealing with the public should have them.”

But others pointed out the difficulties of adopting such systems in Western countries. One commenter said Americans would say an entry scanner violated their constitutional rights “because they only selfishly think of themselves and don’t care about anyone else.”

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